Read an Extract from Dr Franklin's Island:
I dreamed that I was counting tree frogs. They were
brightly coloured, like jewels, but they had too many legs. I was piling
them one on top of another. The legs kept sticking out in all directions
and I kept trying to tuck them neatly into the heap. It was one of those
anxiety-dreams you get when you aren't properly asleep. While I stacked
up these frogs that looked like beetles, I still knew I was on the plane.
I could hear some people talking loudly. I wished they'd keep quiet,
because they were making me lose count... The voices kept on getting
louder. Finally I opened my eyes.
The window beside me was black. The cabin was dark, except for the fasten
seat belts signs, and the little glowing lights that lead to the emergency
exits. My eyes felt sticky, I'd gone to sleep with my contact lenses
in. I remember peering at my watch, and thinking, that's funny, I thought
we were supposed to be in Quito by now.
The noisy conversation that I'd heard in my dream wasn't happening in
the passenger cabin. The sound of loud voices, shouting voices, using
a language I couldn't understand, was coming from the cockpit. I looked
around at Miranda. She was awake too. We both had our seatbelts fastened:
I hadn't unfastened mine since take off. We didn't speak. She leaned
down, unlaced her hiking boots, and took them off. Then she reached
under her seat and pulled out her bag. I saw her grope in the outside
pockets, and transfer some things to the pockets of her combats. I knew,
right then, exactly what she was doing, and why... I slipped my reefs
back onto my bare feet, and bent to fasten the velcro straps. I felt
a weird tingling in my stomach and my throat. I badly wanted to go to
the toilet, but that didn't seem like an option at the moment. I'd already
noticed, with some unsuspected instinct deep inside, that Miranda and
I (our seats were in the back, near the tail section) were near an exit;
and seen which way we should go to reach it.
'What's happening?' I whispered.
Miranda said, 'I don't know. Sssh-'
They say in an emergency you should drop everything and save your life
if you can. But if you can get hold of anything useful, before things
go completely bananas, you really should. Take it from me. I couldn't
get to my bag. I started trying to reach for my jacket, so at least
I'd have my contact lens case, which was in one of the pockets. But
it had slipped too far under the seat-
I don't really know what happened next. I'm almost sure I heard a loud
bang, like a gun being fired. I know the plane started lurching all
over the place, like a car driving too fast on a very bumpy road. Then
one of the cabin crew came out of the cockpit as if she'd been pushed
out, looking very scared, and there was a strange man behind her, not
in uniform, his face covered... I think his face was covered
a mask. But there was so much confusion, suddenly. A couple of boys
in front of me and Miranda had got up from their seats. I don't know
what they were trying to do. A girl started screaming at them to sit
down, and the grown ups had to intervene to break up a fight. It was
dark, and I was scared. I concentrated on keeping quiet, not getting
involved, hoping I was wrong about what seemed to be happening, hoping
whatever was going on would be over soon. Then the plane nose-dived.
My ears popped so hard it felt as if they were bursting. There was a
huge, big roller-coaster scream that went all through the cabin: and
I know that would have been the end, finito... but the plane levelled
out again with an ear-ringing shock that was like hitting an invisible
brick wall. The undercarriage (no, not the undercarriage, I mean, the
belly of the plane, I don't know what it's called), seemed to hit something
hard as rock, bounced, and hit again.
'We're ditching in the sea,' said Miranda, softly. 'Let's stick together,
huh? Can you swim?' Even now she sounded cool and grown-up, and in control.
There was pandemonium in the cabin, but her quiet voice cut through
it. If she'd shrieked like everyone else, I'd never have heard her.
I said, 'Yeah, I can swim,' and we got hold of each other's hands.
Things became calmer, now the situation was desperate. The shouting
and screaming died off. We were told to unfasten our seatbelts and get
out into the aisle. I shuffled for the exit along with everyone else,
holding Miranda's hand so tight, you'd have had to cut my arm off to
get me loose. Next thing I remember, I was in the water. Miranda was
beside me. We were treading water, buoyed up by our lifejackets, in
the dark, in a crowd of other bobbing heads and bright blobs of lifejackets.
We were trying to get to one of the big yellow liferafts, but we were
being smacked around by waves that were chopping and smashing wildly
at us from every direction. Something bashed me hard in the knee. I
heard Miranda yell, 'We can't do it! We have to get away from these
rocks!' I was absolutely trusting her with my life, so I swam with her,
in the opposite direction from everybody around us. And that was very
lucky, because it meant at least we were swimming away from the plane,
when the explosion happened.
I can't remember hearing anything. I was simply flung up high in the
air, still surrounded by water, and then deep down, down down... and
then flying up again, choking and gasping, being thrown about like a
rag. Then I was swimming again, with Miranda beside me. My eyes were
sore and blinded by salt, my throat was raw, my lungs hurt, and the
water seemed cold as ice. I was thinking of the pilot, or whoever it
was, who had managed to level out of the nose-dive. I was thinking,
I owe that person a life. Whoever managed to do that, doesn't deserve
for me to give up now-
Cold black salt water. A blackness overhead lit by brilliant stars.
Two heads bobbing near me. Somewhere nearby, a long, steady roaring
sound... 'Miranda?' I yelled.
'Yes, it's me.'
'Who's that with you?'
Whoever it was didn't answer, maybe they couldn't spare the breath.
There was no sign of the liferafts, or any other bobbing heads. The
three of us seemed to be completely alone, and I thought of the great
huge ocean stretching out forever.
With sharks in it.
'Listen,' croaked Miranda, bumping into me. 'Listen to the breakers.
Look, I can see the shore. We can make it. Come on, swim.'
Ahead of us I could see a cone of darkness blotting out the starry sky.
There was a moving, glimmering line, where that darkness merged with
the surface of the sea: I knew this was the foam of waves breaking on
a shore. We swam. My wet denim jeans made it feel as if my legs were
encased in concrete, and I wished I hadn't put my reefs back on. Miranda
had had more sense, taking her boots off. I tried to kick the sandals
away, but I couldn't get rid of them. I don't know how I kept on swimming,
but I did, for an incredibly long time. When we got in among the breaking
waves I was picked up and thrown back, time after time, and that's when
I really thought I was done for, because I had no strength left to fight.
The water didn't seem like water, it seemed like an enormous, cruelly
playful living thing, tossing me about in its claws and its teeth. I
was shouting at it, inside me somewhere, stop it, stop it, knock it
off, you big bully... But finally, finally, there was sand underfoot.
Finally, finally, on my hands and knees, I crawled out of the waves'
reach. Miranda was there with me, and someone else. We rolled over lay
on our backs on the hard wet sand. There was no moon, only the stars,
shining blurred and bright: the brightest stars I had ever seen.
'Who are you?' I said, to the person next to me, on the other side from
Miranda. I didn't have the strength to sit up and look.
All three of us crawled up the sloping beach, until the sand under us
was dry. We collapsed again for a while, and then we crawled further,
until we came to a big boulder with an overhang: a shelter that seemed,
by our present standards, as good as a five star hotel. There we lay,
drenched, battered, too exhausted to talk, too exhausted to sleep, waiting
for the light.
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